PHA Not Liable for Neighbor’s Actions Against Resident
Facts: A disabled resident sued the local PHA for alleged 14th Amendment violations. He claimed that the PHA failed to provide safe and habitable housing by failing to protect him from his neighbors’ unwanted contacts and the obstacles his neighbor placed on the sidewalks near his apartment.
In April 2013, new tenants moved into the unit across from the resident’s apartment. The resident claimed that the new tenants began to surveil his movements and actions; converse with, harass, and berate him; and blocked his full use of the common area sidewalk. He claimed that the new tenants also disregarded the rules of the property and tenancy, and that these rule violations affected his peaceful enjoyment and use of his apartment.
From July 2013 through January 2017, the resident submitted numerous complaints to the PHA management about the new tenants’ actions and rule violations. When written complaints didn’t work, the resident initiated the PHA grievance process. Only one grievance hearing was held.
In November 2016, a scheduled annual inspection was performed inside the resident’s apartment. In December 2016, the resident was informed that a re-inspection would be needed. The resident claimed that none of the “failed items” listed for the re-inspection were lease violations, and denied the PHA’s request for re-inspection. The PHA initiated eviction proceedings for violation of the rental agreement and was eventually awarded possession of the apartment.
Ruling: An Oregon district court dismissed the resident’s complaint.
Reasoning: For a successful 14th Amendment claim, the resident had to show that a state actor deprived him of a constitutionally protected life, liberty, or property interest. According to the court, the state is generally not required by the Constitution to “protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors.” Consequently, the state’s failure to protect an individual from “harms inflicted by persons not acting under color of law” will not ordinarily give rise to liability.
There are two exceptions to the general rule that a public entity’s failure to protect an individual from harms by non-governmental actors will not ordinarily give rise to deprivation of rights liability: (1) the “special relationship” exception; and (2) the “danger creation” exception. When the state has “created a special relationship with a person, as in the case of custody or involuntary hospitalization,” courts have imposed liability “premised on an abuse of that special relationship.” And the danger creation exception requires affirmative conduct by the state, creating a danger that the plaintiff would not have otherwise faced.
Here, the court found that resident status wasn’t enough to create a special relationship with a PHA. And the second exception also didn’t apply to this case, because the PHA didn’t take an action that created a danger to the resident. The allegations against the PHA were only for a failure to act, not for any affirmative conduct on its behalf.
· Hooper v. HUD, et al., May 2017